South Dublin’s Rocky Shore

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-1 Shankill to Killiney.

Right now, we are caught in something of a bubble, constrained to our particular bailiwick. But bubbles are the thinnest of membranes, we can see with our minds and soar with our imaginations. Often, we can find paradise on our doorstep. Living along the east coast is a boon in many ways. The view is an ever open doorway, unlocking life’s treasure chest. The sea is a conduit for our dreams and adventures, a balm on life’s troubles and constraints. The sea alone, this side of space, coats the orb on which we balance, and the means, this side of flight, by which we can traverse it.

I find myself hugging the coast. Wicklow and Dublin are my usual stomping grounds. That’s a good stretch of coast from the Boyne estuary and Drogheda to the Avoca River and the port of Arklow. I’ve written recently on Drogheda (Counties Louth and Meath, I know), Malahide, and Swords. Howth and Raheny await my attentions. Here, I intend to map out the joys of Dublin’s south coast.

I was recently atop Bray Head, and the view looking north is an inspiration. From soul to sole; the plan formed for a good walk, or series of walks, from Shankill along the sea shore to Killiney, ascending to the Vico Road and on to Dalkey, then downhill via the Metals to Dun Laoghaire. Then, or another time, pick a way back along the rocky shore via Bullock Harbour, Dalkey and the Colliemore, returning by the Vico to Shankill.

2017-01-21 10.36.46Shankill (from the Irish ‘old church’) is Dublin County’s southernmost town. It has a population of just over 14,000, Dublin’s suburban expansion transforming what was once a small village. The bridge at the north end of the Main Street, the old Dublin Road, crosses the now defunct Harcourt Street Line, the original rail connection between Bray and Dublin in 1854. A little later, the coastal route pushed through to Dun Laoghaire and on to Westland Row. Today, this route provides the Dartline commuter rail service from Greystones to Howth and Malahide in North Dublin. 

A long suburban road falls from the bridge towards the beach, passing Shankill Dart station on the way. Shankill beach is a thin strip of shingle slung below low, rapidly eroding cliffs. I parked at Corbawn Avenue, just north of the entrance to the beach and, with the sun on my back, hiked along the playing fields to gain the pathway leading down to Killiney Strand.

Killiney Bay

Killiney Bay has excited comparison with the Bay of Naples, and though such comparisons are often strained, on a glorious day such as this you can see the connection. The bay is framed to the south by Bray Head and the Sugarloaf Mountains, attractively conical peaks the larger of which gives a passable imitation of a volcano. The names of the roads mirror the conceit: Vico, Sorrento, Capri and San Elmo. Above, Killiney Hill stands sentinel, crowned by its obelisk. The craggy coast is clad in woodland and expensive villas, this is the address for the rich and famous.

Snaking along the lower reaches of the headland, the Dartline hugs the coast to Dublin. The views it offers of the bay are worth the fare, in spades. Strand Road runs the far side of the track, a connection between the high road and Killiney Dart Station. At the southern end is Holy Child College, a fee paying Catholic secondary school for girls founded in 1947. It is run by The Society of the Holy Child Jesus, an international community of Roman Catholic sisters which was formed in England in 1946 by Cornelia Kennedy.

Born Cornelia Peacock in Philadelphia in 1809, she married an Episcopalian minister, Pierce Connelly with whom she had five children. The couple converted to Catholicism, but Pierce pushed on towards the priesthood. Cornelia took vows of permanent chastity and in 1847 became a nun. but a long and bitter legal dispute with her estranged husband followed. He, ironically, had grown jealous of her attachment to the faith.

For all her sorrows, the order Cornelia established was run along the lines of the Jesuits and encouraged its students to express themselves through Art, Music and Drama. In that respect, they encouraged a glitterati of artistic alumnii: writers Eavan Boland and Maeve Binchy amongst the best known.

Reverend Sisters, I remember were it yesterday

standing young and green before the wisdom age and your black habits wrought

The sisters also fostered the talent of a trio of girls: Alison Bools, Clodagh Simonds and Mary White, together known as Mellow Candle. In their mid teens they put together demo tapes and in 1968, aged just fifteen, they cut their first single Feeling High in London. As with much of the band’s work, commercially it disappeared without trace. Two years later, Alison, at art college, and Clodagh, returned from a sojourn in Italy, or perhaps just Vico Road, reformed Mellow Candle augmented by two guitarists. 

Reverend Sisters I remember everything you see

all your words and teaching left some imprint on my memory

though I’m sad it had to be this way

as you said we change with every day

Reverend Sisters though I hate to say it

now the veils are lifted from my eyes and I can see

Reverend Sisters/Mellow Candle

Mellow Candle

These merry pranksters went on trips around the bay, played in the company of Doctor Strangely Strange, Thin Lizzy and Horslips, and signed with Deram records. The fully electric quintet that cut their only album, Swaddling Songs, comprised the twin female vocal with Clodagh on keyboards, guitarist Dave Williams who married Alison at a ragged Lizzy stadium gig, ex-Creatures bassist Frank Boylan and drummer William Murray. Swaddling Songs is a gem, a shining example of music transcending genres and time. In its own time it was completely ignored. 

I was one of a handful who bought it, as fans do, but weirdly it attained cult status two decades later and is now a collectors item. Mellow Candle’s music is unclassifiable. When ascribed genre, they were often labelled folk-rock, or Celtic-rock, neither being particularly accurate. They were a genre unto themselves: Breton sea shanties, renaissance music, choral, folk, and prog rock in a joyful collision – baroque and roll perhaps; their sound poised forever on the event horizon in some other universe.

I suppose, life and school in such a locale would tend to lead the soul towards all things maritime and wild. One can imagine Simmonds out on the strand, or bathing off shore. My younger self tended a lot towards such imaginings, but dreams can come true. 

At a summer gig in the summer of seventy one, Mellow Candle played support to Thin Lizzy in Blackrock Park. The park made a natural amphitheatre sloping down to a pond, with the bandstand an island in the water. Not being ones to hold back, and it being a glorious day, the girls plunged into the water for the finale and formed a pre-Raphaelite tableau of bathing nymphs. But then, on such a day, who could resist the urge to join them? So, here’s to swimmin’ with Clodagh Simonds.

gravity

Pity the poet who suffers to give

sailing his friendship on oceans of love 

strange harbour soundwaves break out of his reach

love is a foreigner to the queen of the beach 

The Poet and the Witch/Mellow Candle 

6 thoughts on “South Dublin’s Rocky Shore

  1. Well described, Shane. If you have time I’d like to discover the Hidden gems of Killiney with you as my tour guide.
    Otherwise a pint beside Bray seaside. 🍺 I’ve hired a Sea View Cabin at Grosvenor Avenue for 3 nights 30th – 3rd then moving on to Enniskerry and Greystones.
    I’ve been in Killarney for 2 weeks in beautiful Beaufort.
    Text or message here if time to stretch your legs or have a beer. 😀

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